The advantages of playing at home

Mauro Biello, Marc Dos Santos’s assistant, is well-placed to understand the benefits of playing at home, considering he wore an Impact jersey for 16 seasons. “It’s always special. We’re really excited to play at home in front of our fans,” said Biello. “The Impact always plays its first few games on the road, but our season never really gets underway until that first match on our field.”



That desire is motivated by a number of things. “When you play at home, the fans make the trip to come and encourage you,” explained Antonio Ribeiro. “You play in front of family and friends and that really feeds your desire to win. It’s very important and you can see how a team’s mindset changes, even when there aren’t a ton of people in the stands, which has been the case for some of our opponents in the past.”



MORE COMFORTABLE EQUALS MORE RISKS

“It doesn’t make much difference if it isn’t a big crowd,” explained Simon Gatti. “When I played in university, there was no kop (a section of supporters who chant the entire game), so there wasn’t as much of an advantage. Playing on the road is always tougher.

Travelling, not eating the same way and staying in a hotel instead of at home, all take you out of your routine.”



Marc Dos Santos likes players who are able to function out of their comfort zone, but knows full well that playing at home represents an advantage. “There’s the crowd, but also the fact that the players know every inch of their own field, which makes them more comfortable. Being more comfortable pushes them to take a few more chances,” noted the head coach.







Dos Santos doesn't give his players different instructions based on where they're playing. "Our attitude always remains the same based on our system, whether we're at home or on the road. Our league of eight teams has a playoff system that allows the sixth place team to have title aspirations, instead of being faced with relegation. Even in a traditional championship format, I still don't favor different styles of play based on location. It should instead depend on the particular qualities of the opponent. At times, players can be preoccupied with playing for a single point on the road and that's a philosophy that we need to change with our players, because it's exactly what can put a club in a losing situation.”



Philippe Billy shares the manager's view. "In Italy, for example, a team that plays a possession game often contents itself with a draw on the road. Others feel that losing to teams like Juventus or Milan isn't that serious. I don't like that mentality. I prefer playing at the top of the table, like with the Impact."



THEORY AND PRACTICE

On paper, the team's mission is clear. "In practice, it's another thing," continued the French right-back. "Especially in the NASL, with long trips and a very different atmosphere in the other stadiums. We have more motivation in front of our own crowd. When we're at home, we're supposed to command the ball and dictate the play. I realized last season that we play much better at home than on the road. I think we play that way without even realizing it."



Billy, who played in France, Belgium and Italy, is well-placed to compare these situations. "In Europe, the road trips are shorter, a number of fans make the trip to support you and the ambiance is the same from one stadium to another."



A home game has its advantages for supporters, most notably, the ability to descend on the stadium in droves to cheer on the home team. After six months of waiting, the anticipation of the home opener is at a fever pitch. The reward for patiently waiting is almost here: this Saturday, at 2:30pm.



Matthias Van Halst, Impact Media



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